For storyteller and ceramic artist Baba Wague Diakite, art began at home in the Republic of Mali in Western Africa. “I grew up in a very small town, where my education began through storytelling,” he says. “My grandmother said you needed to be educated before you went to school, and she believed her stories delivered an understanding that nothing else could. Her stories were the beginning of my artistic life.”
Like many children in the former French Sudan, Wague Diakite was educated in French schools, where drawing was important to learning. “Some children came to school speaking four or five languages, so drawing was a necessary link between children and learning French and understanding our lessons,” he says. “We had small competitions in drawing, and that’s how I began illustrating folktales as well as the events happening around me.”
Wague Diakite, 47, came to Portland in 1984, but often travels to Africa. He recently established a cultural center in Bamako, Mali, where he takes Oregonians to do art projects. In a basement studio in his home, he writes and illustrates children’s books and creates ceramics. The 22-inch Dancer Platter (left) was cast from a plaster mold, painted and fired with lead-free glaze. “You can serve food on it, but usually, when I see one of my plates somewhere, it’s hanging on a wall,” he says.
The figures on the platter are Ceblenke dancers, who celebrate the harvest each August in Mali. The white flying animals illustrate a central theme of his art. “Those are little metaphors,” he says. “In Africa, we say
that you’re never alone, so I always put little creatures flying in my images
to represent the link between people and nature.” The platter costs $1,800.
Contact artist Baba Wague Diakite via the Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery (929 N.W. Flanders St., 503-228-6665) in Portland.